These budget pocket knives are tough, durable and practical.

Everyone Needs at least One Good Beater Knife

I know it’s not cool to actually use your knives these days. Most of mine sit on my desk or in my drawer, only used a half dozen times while I was testing them and then delegated to the decoration section of my workspace. I do have a small collection of durable budget knives that I use regularly, though.

And not just use, I beat them to death. They get run through the dirt, pried between an old rusty screw fused to a washer, stabbed into mud while I’m trying to wrangle a torn up irrigation pipe, or thrown against a tree either because I’m trying to startle the big damn spider sitting in a branch or because I’ve just fallen out of the tree it just feels appropriate in the moment.

The point is, some knives are made to be used and abused, and it seems like that necessary aspect of knives doesn’t really get highlighted that often. So here are some of the best knives I’ve found for hard use. Either I or my brother own most of them, but the others are knives that I will probably get, based on what I’ve read, when I need to replace the hard-use knives that I have.

Hard Use Knives Under 3 Inches

First the smaller knives. This the size range I prefer because more often than not I need a knife to get into tiny spaces. But these are also really easy to pack around, and usually a smaller size means a lower price so they’re not too bad to replace in the likely event that I lose one.

Esee Zancudo

The Esee Zancudo is a great beater knife at an excellent price. Thi shard use knife is perfect for people who use a knife for work on a regular basis.

  • Overall Length: 7.0”
  • Blade Length: 2.9”
  • Steel: Aus-8
  • Blade Style: Drop point
  • Handle Length: 4.0”
  • Handle Material: G-10
  • Lock Mechanism: Frame
  • Open system: Manual thumb stud
  • Grind: Flat
  • Carry System: Reversible tip-down pocket clip

I’ve abused this knife more than anything I own. It’s just the right combination of cheap, tough, and easy to carry to get used in pretty much every dirty job I have to do. It’s not necessarily the best knife for any given job; it’s just one of those little tools that’s always a possible option for helping with any given job.

The design itself comes from the folks at Esee, but it’s actually manufactured by Blue Ridge knives, which makes most of their stuff in Taiwan. Whatever you think of overseas manufacturing, it’s a big part of why this knife is such a reasonable price, and aside from some blade drift (and let’s be honest, that’s probably at least half my fault), I haven’t had any issues with the manufacturing quality.

If that seems cool, take a look at my full review of the Zancudo here.

 

Ontario RAT 2

The Ontario is an extremely popular tough folding knife that is a great option for camping or working.

 

  • Overall Length: 7.0”
  • Blade Length: 3.0”
  • Steel: Aus-8 or D2
  • Blade Style: Drop point
  • Handle Length: 4.1”
  • Handle Material: Nylon
  • Lock Mechanism: Liner
  • Open system: Manual thumb stud
  • Grind: Flat
  • Carry System: 4-position pocket clip

I don’t own a Rat 2 (yet), but I can’t seem to get away from being recommended a Rat 2. It has a similar design to the Zancudo, but I’d be crucified by anyone who’s used a Rat if I didn’t say it’s almost certainly better than the Esee Zancudo. I won’t guarantee that, but all reports seem to agree this is an insanely tough knife. At the very least, it has the added perk of being available in either Aus-8 stainless or D2 tool steel.

Someday I’ll do a side-by-side comparison of the two, but in the meantime I have to say that I like the style and price of this knife, and in the unlikely event that I ever need to replace my Zancudo, it will probably be with this thing.

 

Kershaw Cryo 1555Ti

The Kershaw Cryo is famous for a reason. It is a well designed pocket knife that is tough enough to withstand hard work,

 

  • Overall Length: 6.5”
  • Blade Length: 2.75”
  • Steel: 8Cr13MoV
  • Blade Style: Drop point
  • Handle Length: 3.8”
  • Handle Material: Stainless steel
  • Lock Mechanism: Frame lock w/ lockbar stabilizer
  • Open system: Assisted open flipper tab
  • Grind: Hollow
  • Carry System: 4-position pocket clip

This is a Rick Hinderer knife, and that’s usually a good indication that it’s a tough blade. It’s also the only reason I’m recommending an assisted open knife. Normally that’s a red flag for me, especially after the ambivalent experience I had with the CRKT Ignitor. I have to make an exception for Hinderer stuff, though, as I rarely pick up one of his knives without getting flush with the sudden feeling of possibility.

He tends to specialize in easy one-handed open, which is really nice when you’re working on something, especially since the Cryo is pretty thin. Bare-handed that’s not a problem, but if you’re wearing any kind of glove it can get tricky to get a folding knife open one-handed.

 

Hard-Use Folder Over 3 Inches

Most of the knives in this category are blades you can really wack at stuff with. They’re mostly overbuilt with wide blade stocks and tough frame locks, and for the most part that’s what you want to look for in a larger beater knife. In my opinion (and experience) it should be fairly easy to clean and look like it can survive a fall from the top of a ten-foot tree.

Kershaw Emerson CQC 6K

The Kershaw Emerson CQC 6K is a tactical knife that is durable enough to be used for hard tasks, and it is relatively cheap at under $50.

 

  • Overall Length: 7.75”
  • Blade Length: 3.25”
  • Steel: 8Cr14MoV
  • Blade Style: Clip point
  • Handle Length: 4.5”
  • Handle Material: G-10
  • Lock Mechanism: Frame Lock
  • Open system: Manual thumb disk / Emerson wave-shaped opener
  • Grind: Hollow
  • Carry System: Tip-up pocket clip

It’s hard to beat the brutal efficiency of an Emerson knife. He always makes his knives easy to open, but what’s probably more useful to someone looking for some kind of beater knife is that the tips of his designs are usually pretty solid. Not because they’re stout, he just seems to have some magic understanding of geometry he brings to his designs so most Emersons tend to have a tougher structure than other knives in the same size.

The Kershaw CQC series has a lot of knives that frankly don’t seem all that different to me aside from small variations in size and different kinds of steel. I’ve put up the stats for the CQC 6K because I usually see it running for around $30, but if you’ve handled one CQC you have a good idea of how the rest feel.

 

Gerber Flatiron

This cleaver styled pocket knife from Gerber is tough and well designed. If properly cared for it should last for years.

  • Overall Length: 8.5”
  • Blade Length: 3.6”
  • Steel: 7Cr17MoV
  • Blade Style: Cleaver
  • Handle Length:
  • Handle Material: Alulminum
  • Lock Mechanism: Fram lock
  • Open system: Manual thumb hole
  • Grind: Hollow
  • Carry System: Tip-up pokcet clip

If you want a good handle for a good price, this the Flatiron is one of the best ways you can go. The cleaver blade limits its usability in some ways, but it’s fantastic for detailed shaving work. It has one of the best finger choils of any folding knife I’ve handled personally so it actually feels comfortable to make a feather stick with it.

It’s actually a bit of a paradox, because the knife is clearly overbuilt for hard use, but the design of it seems geared toward finer work. I see it as something designed shave and slice in potentially harsh environments like a construction or camp site. Either way, it has a tough frame lock and a ton of space for gloved hands to work with comfortably.

 

CRKT Shenanigan Z

The Shenanigan is a tough knife with a pocket clicp that needs improvement, but if you are looking for a hard use knife the Shenanigan is a good one for less than $50.

 

  • Overall Length: 8.25”
  • Blade Length: 3.25”
  • Steel: Aus-8
  • Blade Style: Drop point
  • Handle Length: 4.875”
  • Handle Material: GFN
  • Lock Mechanism: Liner
  • Open system: Manual flipper tab
  • Grind: Hollow
  • Carry System: Tip-down pocket clip

I gave this knife a hard time in my review because the pocket clip gives it a pretty bad hot spot and it’s clunky in the pocket, but I still carry it all the time. It’s the blade that really sells this knife. Even when it starts getting a little dull you can get a lot done just with the slight recurve shape of the edge. And it’s so wide you have a lot of material to hit stuff with. I’ve actually used it as a kind of emergency machete a few times, hacking at brush or straggling branches because I wasn’t smart enough to bring something bigger along.

So long as you keep it sharp, though, the real perk of this knife is how it slices. And while the body of it is bulky, that’s part of what makes it a working knife (at least, that’s what the designer Ken Onion intended). It’s bulky but easy to clean, the steel is middle of the road but easier to sharpen, and the general overbuilt design makes it a little better for using when you’re wearing gloves.

Click here to check out my full review of the CRKT Shenanigan.

 

Ruger CRKT 2-Stage Compact

The Ruger CRKT Two Stage Compact is one of the toughest hard use budget pocket knives on the market.

  • Overall Length: 8.3”
  • Blade Length: 3.5”
  • Steel: 8Cr17MoV
  • Blade Style: Tanto
  • Handle Length: 5.0”
  • Handle Material: Aluminum and stainless steel
  • Lock Mechanism: Frame lock
  • Open system: Manual flipper tab
  • Grind: Hollow
  • Carry System:4-positions pocket clip

This knife makes a good club and a better prybar, but you might have a little trouble getting it to slice any kind of fine line. It excels in pure toughness on a budget. You can throw it against a brick wall without hurting it. And even if you do hurt it, the small chip of paint that might flake off it is a small percentage of the mass of the knife as a whole.

If you’re breaking down cardboard or need to take a piece off a big chunk of wood, this isn’t a bad knife to pack around. Thetanto style blade has also come in handy quite a few times as a way to work between sheets of metal or pry pieces of wood apart. Of all the knives on this list, this is easily the one that can take the most abuse.

We didn’t exactly throw it at brick walls, but if you want to see it chop, check out are full review of it here.

 

Opinel #9

The Opinel is a classic hard use durable knife for people who need a beater knife to get hard work done.

  • Overall Length: 8.15”
  • Blade Length: 3.5”
  • Steel: High carbon
  • Blade Style: Clip point
  • Handle Length: 4.65”
  • Handle Material: Beechwood
  • Lock Mechanism: Virobloc
  • Open system: Manual nail nick
  • Grind: Flat
  • Carry System: Pocket (some leather sheaths available)

As hesitant as I am to include something that isn’t one-handed open, it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t say the Opinel design is underappreciated as a working knife. It’s nothing fancy, which is what makes it so durable. It would be a nightmare to open with a gloved hand, but once you’ve got it, the round handle is actually pretty well made for a clunky grip. On top of that, it’s really made to get dirty. It has a smooth wood handle and a straightforward blade design. No weird grooves that might pack up grime, and a price that makes it pretty painless to replace should the worst happen.

 

Cold Steel Pocket Bushman

The Pocket Bushman from Cold Steel is an under valued knife . Considering it's great price and toughness it should be more famous.

 

  • Overall Length: 10.25
  • Blade Length: 4.5”
  • Steel: 4116 German stainless steel
  • Blade Style: Clip point
  • Handle Length: 5.75”
  • Handle Material: Stainless steel
  • Lock Mechanism: Ram safe
  • Open system: Manual thumb stud
  • Grind: Flat
  • Carry System: Reversible tip-up pocket clip

Cold Steel would have a lot more knives on this list but most of the really good stuff I wanted to in here tops the $70 mark. I almost included the Voyager anyway just because we’ve used that thing so much, but if let in one $70 hard-use knife I’d have to let a few more gems in here, and then it would just be a different blog.

The Pocket Bushman is a surprisingly fancy knife considering the price, though. They’ve packed a lot of features into this specifically to make it a hard-use knife. The main one of course being the Ram safe lock mechanism. This is essentially a backlock bar on a spring system that is always engaged. You actually have to pull the back bar down from the bottom of the knife for opening and closing the knife.

There were some big problems with this lock system when the Bushman first came out, but those have been fixed in later iterations and now it’s nearly unbreakable. If there’s any real problem with this knife it’s that it’s still difficult to open even two-handed. Some people claim to have methods for one-handed opening this knife, but Cold Steel doesn’t recommend doing that. That’s probably why they’ve since moved on to the Tri-ad lock.

But whatever ergonomic issues the Pocket Bushman might have, it’s still a massively tough folding knife for a great price.